Loyola just continues to roll.
There has been no let up for the Ramblers since their return from Florida, winning three games since reentering state limits, the latest being a 52-49 win over St. Viator in the MLK shootout to improve to 14-2 on the season.
“More than anything the Florida trip had less to do with basketball and more to do with us as brothers,” said Loyola head coach Tom Livatino. “We’re not the flashiest or the glitziest team, but we’re tough, and that’s what that trip did. This was a really, really, good road win against an unbelievable team.”
Things did not go Loyola’s way to start the game. St. Viator’s diverse offensive attack forced Loyola to have to decide which of the Lions talented scorers their defense should focus on.
With most of the attention turned to junior’s Jeremiah Hernandez and Treyvon Calvin, it allowed Connor Kochera to find some space to score 11 first quarter points, giving St. Viator a 16-12 lead.
Fortunately for the Ramblers, the defensive intensity turned around in the second quarter. Loyola managed to hold St. Viator to just six second quarter points by limiting the Lions open looks, and forcing multiple turnovers.
“St. Viator is an excellent team with four really that are really, really hard to guard,” said Livatino. “Early on we decided to pick our poison and gave Kochera too many openings. They’re really good in transition and when we got them in the half court, which was the idea, I thought we guarded them pretty well.”
The strong defensive play was complimented with Kevin Cunningham’s offensive outburst which included many baskets that required a high degree of difficulty to complete.
Livatino said: “Kevin has just been on a roll, he is a ridiculously underrated player, a phenomenal player. He’s played well for eight games now, shooting over 50% from three.”
After taking a 26-22 lead into the halftime break, Loyola faltered a bit to start the second half and allowed St. Viator to take a slim lead.
The lapse in play did not last for long however, as Cunningham as well as fellow guard Peter Mangan helped propel Loyola on a 8-0 run to regain the lead.
Not only did Cunningham and Mangan showcase their shooting ability, but the guards attacked the offensive glass leading to easy Loyola baskets.
“It’s definitely something we’ve been emphasizing getting more offensive rebounds for some easy baskets,” said Livatino. “I thought Pete Mangan was super special tonight. If you want to see a kid play his heart out you saw it tonight.”
Though the Ramblers looked to be in command entering the fourth quarter, St. Viator quickly erased a nine point deficit as Hernandez suddenly came alive, scoring 10 of his team high 19 points in the final frame.
St. Viator would cut the lead to just one point and kept it close right down to the wire, but two free throws calmly put away by Cunningham would essentially seal the deal for Loyola, as St. Viator’s last second shot attempt was well wide of the target.
In addition to Cunningham’s game high 23 points, the senior added five rebounds and three assists. Mangan had a double-double for the Ramblers with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Loyola will have another big test on Friday as they take on 14th ranked DePaul Prep in a Chicago Catholic League battle. St. Viator will be back at home on Saturday for a game against Lakes in the MLK shootout.